Skip to main content
Outdated Browser

For the best experience using our website, we recommend upgrading your browser to a newer version or switching to a supported browser.

More Information

April 2014

Writing from South Korea

This month we're spotlighting South Korea. Although the country is among the ten largest book markets in the world, relatively few of its writers have been translated into English, and many emerging writers were largely unknown outside South Korea. Kyung-sook Shin's Man Asian Prize sparked new interest and contributed to the increased visibility of the country's thriving literary culture. The writers here, ranging from the perennial Nobel nominee Ko Un to the precocious Ae-ran Kim, demonstrate the depth and variety of contemporary South Korean literature. Kyung-sook Shin follows a lovesick young soldier. Ae-ran Kim's disaffected teen tries to escape her battling parents, as Kim Young-ha goes in search of an absent father. Han Kang's enigmatic wife gives up meat and sex. Han Yujoo mourns a death and battles writer's block. Park Min-gyu and Yi Mun-yol find their workplaces transformed. In a poem from his multivolume epic Ten Thousand Lives, Ko Un depicts the human side of history. In other poetry, Shim Bo-seon yearns for magic, Kim Sa-in reminisces, Kim Soo-Bok reflects on fertility and the sea, and Jeong Ho-seung books a trip to hell. We thank the Literature Translation Institute of Korea for its generous support, and our advisors Martin Alexander and Sora Kim-Russell.

Elsewhere, we present poetry by two exiled writers, Iraqi Manal Al-Sheikh and Palestinian Mazen Maarouf, as well as the sixth and final installment of Sakumi Tayama's tale of an accidental medium. 

Texts Written without the Author’s Knowledge
By Pavel Gol’din
The screech of streetcars falls silent.Juice trickles from a windfall pomegranatebranching—as though a monster had grown through the railsor lung tissue rottedand the bronchi and vesselsof a woolly…
Translated from Russian by Nika Skandiaka
Multilingual
Say Ah, Pelican
By Park Min-gyu
Boat PeopleYawn. Yawning always makes me sleepy. There are still two boats out on the water, but I lie down anyway. There’d be trouble if the boss saw me. It would be so great if the polar ice caps…
Translated from Korean by Jenny Wang Medina
from “I’ll Be Right There”
By Kyung-sook Shin
When whales swim toward the coastline, they sound like North Korean spy submarines.
Translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell
Learn
Injeolmi Rice Cakes
By Kim Sa-in
I would collapse on the warm floor and sleep like a cat.
Translated from Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé & Susan Hwang
LearnMultilingual
The Vegetarian
By Han Kang
“Your body smells of meat.”
Translated from Korean by Deborah Smith
Learn
Lament
By Han Yujoo
He was fifty-four years old with a sound mind and a body that was rotting away. He died. He wasn’t young enough to have required a specific cause of death, or young enough to cause great sadness.…
Translated from Korean by Janet Hong
Multilingual
The Suit
By Young-ha Kim
He finally realized why Alex had hired an investigator and invited him to the US.
Translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell
LearnMultilingual
Ascending Scales
By Ae-ran Kim
Mi-yeong and I tried to grab the piano legs, but it was too late.
Translated from Korean by Jamie Chang
Learn
Gamak Valley
By Ko Un
During wartime the men die,the women survive.Cockerels have their necks twisted and die,hens sit on eggs.Gamak Valley in Yeonsan,north of Nonsan in South Chungcheongis where sharp hillsapproach the ridges…
Translated from Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé & Lee Sang-Wha
Multilingual
My Wife’s Magic
By Shim Bo-Seon
My wife is sad andseeing my sad wife, I too am sad,then as she answers her mother’s phone call, “Sure, we’re fine,”the wife inside my wife grows sadder still.I want to live in…
Translated from Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé & Eun-Gwi Chung
Multilingual
Downtown
By Mazen Maarouf
My share of sleep:four hours eleven minutes.
I roll my pierced heartacross the bedcover:it slams into the door,leaving
a line of mud behind.I believea tree
will come one nightand stop
beside…
Translated from Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid & Nathalie Handal
Multilingual
On Death
By Mazen Maarouf
When we diethe words we haven’t said yetturn to bubblesto inflate the bodyand smuggle it from the gravewhile the cemetery keeper sleeps.But we run up againstthe stone slab over our bodies,which…
Translated from Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid & Nathalie Handal
Multilingual
Spirit Summoning, Part VI
By Sakumi Tayama
The next time we met, Yoko pretended that the Shikoku conversation had never happened. Following her lead, I didn’t bring it up either.After the summoning job was done, Yoko turned to me.“I’m…
Translated from Japanese by Mark Gibeau
My Body
By Manal Al-Sheikh
A body that is the one I borrowed the first night with you . . . I watch it every night running toward a waveless sea where the sand ofage rests in its veins . . .The wearied ships land in its eyesand…
Translated from Arabic by Angham A. Abdullah
Multilingual
War
By Manal Al-Sheikh
Men plan warsAnd women survive in the rubbleOne day there will be no menAnd a woman will pursue anotherIn search of the scent of the last manWho touched his lips to her neck.© Manal Al-Sheikh. By…
Translated from Arabic by Angham A. Abdullah
Multilingual
Poets of Protest
By The Editors of Words Without Borders
Manal Al-Sheikh and Mazen Maarouf, two poets living in exile in Scandinavia, appear in the Al Jazeera-produced documentary series Poets of Protest, directed by British filmmaker Roxana Vilk.  The…
Earning My Keep
By Jeong Ho-Seung
I think I'll go pay a visit to Hell.
Translated from Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé & Susan Hwang
LearnMultilingual
Mud Flats
By Kim Soo-Bok
She lies there with her hugely pregnant body.At dawn a ship leaves, cutting through her stomach.As it emerges from her body, headed for the sea,trailing its umbilical cord,oh, from within her body forcefully…
Translated from Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé
Multilingual
Winter That Year
By Yi Mun-yol
I think the time has finally come when I can try to explain what happened that winter, all those years ago. I’m well past thirty now, and I’ve got a family I have to provide for; so every…
Translated from Korean by Brother Anthony of Taizé
A Stray Bullet
By Mazen Maarouf
After crossing the living room,the library,the corridorand the photo that brings us togetheron a trip to Nahr al-Kalb,and after passing by the washerand my mother (exhaustedin spite of the washer),a stray…
Translated from Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid & Nathalie Handal
Multilingual
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]